Sam Altman, Elon Musk Share Similarities in Their Broad Ambitions

Estimated read time 6 min read

But first, the sun never sets on Sam Altman’s AI empire.

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The big story

Altman’s all-encompassing AI

Sam Altman

Alastair Grant/AP; Rebecca Zisser/BI

He’s the CEO of the most high-profile startup in the world, and that’s only the half of it.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was thrust into the mainstream consciousness with the release of ChatGPT in 2022. It was the start of an AI revolution that he remains one of the faces of.

But Altman, who was well known in the tech community long before ChatGPT, has a reach that extends even further than OpenAI.

His numerous investments aren’t as much about betting on the tech as they are about realizing Altman’s broader vision of the future, Business Insider’s Darius Rafieyan writes.

Many of the startup investments Altman has made are in preparation for the emergence of artificial general intelligence, the idea that tech could ultimately outperform humans at a wide range of tasks and capabilities.

Elon Musk and Sam Altman

Elon Musk and Sam Altman

Michael M. Santiago/Getty, Nordin Catic/Getty, Tyler Le/BI

There is another tech billionaire whose vision exceeds a singular company. He also happens to be someone Altman is feuding with.

Elon Musk and Altman were once allies, initially serving as co-chairs of OpenAI. But their relationship has deteriorated since Musk left OpenAI’s board in 2018.

The bromance-turned-beef culminated in a new lawsuit filed by Musk against Altman and OpenAI, accusing the company of jeopardizing its nonprofit mission via its partnership with Microsoft. The suit detailed how Musk donated more than $44 million to OpenAI as it looked to establish itself.

OpenAI responded by publishing old emails between Musk and its executives, which could pose problems for Musk’s suit. The post, which Altman and other OpenAI execs penned, says the group realized a for-profit entity would be necessary to raise funding and that Elon wanted “majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO.”

The Musk-Altman fight is fascinating considering how much they have in common.

Musk’s ambitions, like Altman’s, are grand, from getting to Mars to encouraging people to have more kids. Altman has previously described Musk as one of his heroes.

But unlike Musk, Altman has, somewhat incredibly, mostly skirted controversy (save for his ouster-then-return saga). Despite running the company that set off a tech arms race slated to upend nearly every corner of the world, Altman isn’t nearly as polarizing a figure as Musk.

It wasn’t always that way. Musk was once considered tech’s golden boy, even serving as the partial inspiration for Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark in “Iron Man” and nabbing Time’s 2021 Person of the Year. Musk still maintains hordes of supporters, but his public perception has certainly changed.

3 things in markets

Photo illustration of Neema Raphael.

Goldman Sachs; Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/BI

  1. Goldman Sachs’ data whiz details the role information plays in the bank’s AI strategy. Neema Raphael, Goldman’s chief data officer and a partner, ensures the bank’s AI models have a steady stream of clean, accurate, and accessible information. He details how his roughly 500-person team works across the bank to make sure they are getting the best data.

  2. Yes, rate cuts are still coming this year. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank still plans to lower interest rates but is waiting on more data. Powell also said inflation won’t need to fall to 2% for cuts to come, which has been a concern for some market experts.

  3. China canceled a closely-watched press conference. Beijing said Monday that Li Qiang’s once-a-year meeting with the local and international press wouldn’t be taking place. It’s a sign that leader Xi Jinping doesn’t want anyone to question his regime as the world’s second-largest economy battles deflationary pressures and a property-market crisis, experts said.

3 things in tech

Apple and Nvidia

One analyst predicts Nvidia’s market cap may blow past Apple’s if the iPhone maker doesn’t release generative AI products this year.

Fernando Gutierrez-Juarez/Getty (L); NurPhoto/Getty

  1. Nvidia could soon leapfrog Apple in value. Analysts say Apple needs to launch generative AI services this year, or risk being surpassed by Nvidia. There’s a lot on the line for Apple, which is already seeing iPhone sales headwinds and trying to catch up to OpenAI, Google, and Microsoft’s AI products.

  2. A Microsoft engineer is sounding the alarm on Copilot Designer. In a letter to the FTC, the employee wrote that Microsoft’s AI image creator produces “harmful content” reflecting sex, violence, and bias. He also said he “repeatedly urged” Microsoft to remove the tool from public use.

  3. Layoffs at Facebook Messenger. Meta’s direct messaging app was hit with a round of cuts this week, two people familiar with the company told BI, as the social media giant’s drive for greater efficiency continues.

3 things in business

"Napoleon" movie poster from Apple

Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” took in $221 million at the global box office, Variety reports. Apple says it was profitable.

Apple handout

  1. Keep making movies, Apple! “Napoleon,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and “Argylle” probably weren’t profitable at the box office. But they could help the tech giant to grow its Apple TV+ streaming service at a time when iPhone sales are slowing down, BI’s Peter Kafka writes

  2. Warehouse giant Prologis is planning a $25 billion push into data centers. Prologis, the nation’s largest warehouse owner, has hired a veteran data center executive to help lead the push. With warehouse growth slowing and data centers booming, the move is a lucrative opportunity.

  3. CEOs shouldn’t fret about their paydays. A Delaware judge recently ruled against Tesla boss Elon Musk’s $55 billion compensation package — but the decision is unlikely to have much of an impact on executive pay in general, legal experts told BI.

In other news

What’s happening today

  • Today’s earnings: Costco, Kroger, and other companies are reporting.

  • President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union address.

  • Apple’s changes to iOS, Safari, and App Store in the EU take effect. The changes bring Apple in compliance with the Digital Markets Act.

The Insider Today team: Dan DeFrancesco, deputy editor and anchor, in New York. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. Jordan Parker Erb, editor, in New York. George Glover, reporter, in London.